Category Archives: SAU 55 Issues
One hour ago, long-time Hampstead resident and SAU critic Jorge Mesa-Tejada was served with a no trespass order from the Superintendent of the Hampstead School District, Dr. Earl Metzler.
The SAU conveniently had a press release prepared – which has not been circulated to the members of the SAU board.
Mr. Mesa-Tejada is chairman of the Hampstead Budget Committee which oversees the Hampstead School District budget in an advisory capacity. During last night’s public budget committee meeting in Hampstead, Mr. Mesa-Tejada was discussing whether or not the budget committee should recommend the school district’s warrant asking for a $4.5 million bond for school building and renovations. One of the arguments advance during a slick school building bond presentation played during the Hampstead School Board meeting a few nights ago, was that students were unsafe from harm when transfering from portables to the main school building. Last night Mr. Mesa-Tejada ridiculed that safety concern by pointing out in more detail than necessary that the children were far more at risk on the playground than when transferring between portables. It is his ridicule, which you can see at 46 minutes into last night’s meeting, that was the superintendent’s pretext for disgracing a valued elected official and an outspoken critic.
Mr. Mesa-Tejada is also the lead petitioner for a citizen’s petition competing against the school district’s $4.5 million bond request. His petition asks for just $1.2 million for renovations only.
Since this is the second time Dr. Metzler has invoked police authority against an elected official who is also a critic, I have called for an emergency meeting of the SAU board. Mr. Mesa-Tejada clearly had no ill intent in mind. No fair minded person could possibly have construed his comments as a threat but only as disparaging the administration’s far fetched justification for what Mr. Mesa-Tejada considers an unnecessary expenditure.
The Hampstead School District has received a citizen’s petition to withdraw from the SAU.
The Hampstead Budget Committee voted not to recommend the school district’s bond warrant by a vote of 1 for and 4 against.
Jan.8, 2016 UPDATE:
The court’s live streaming was not functioning yesterday. So sorry for the frustration this caused. A clerk at the court has assured me the video and audio recording from the trial will be available before the end of day today. I will post it on my blog the minute I learn it is available.
Please stay tuned! The proceedings were fascinating and gave me enormous optimism.
Want to hear my Right-to-Know case being argued in New Hampshire’s Supreme Court tomorrow? The Supreme Court live streams the oral arguments from their website, http://www.courts.state.nh.us/index.htm
Scroll to the bottom of the page and in the middle you will see the symbol for the Supreme Court which looks like the Parthenon. Clicking on that will bring you to the audio and video archives as well as another symbol of the court. Clicking on the symbol will take you to live streaming of arguments.
Green v. SAU 55 et al will be argued around 1:30 PM January 7, 2016 and is scheduled to last approximately 30 minutes.
The video and audio archive of the arguments should be loaded to the site within 24 hours. I’ll link to it on this blog when it becomes available.
When you wake up with 8 inches of snow in your driveway, or go to bed worrying about the overnight weather, our SAU has established a list of outlets for the announcement of snow days. This list was prudently circulated yesterday by press release. This time, though, there is a new twist.
For those who want the very earliest announcement about school cancellation, follow Superintendent Metzler’s Twitter feed – not Timberlane’s Twitter feed.
The press release says in part, “Earliest announcements will be made through Twitter. Those wishing to receive Twitter announcements may do so by subscribing to Twitter; twitter.com/SuptSAU55.”
Timberlane’s Twitter address is: twitter.com/TimberlaneRSD.
I have a suggestion. How about using my blog as the earliest announcement media location?
Clearly, we need some protocol about the protocol. Do we want employees enhancing their social media profile as part of their professional duties?
You can be sure I will never have the opportunity to bring this up at a school board meeting because the chairman has imposed a hard stop to meetings at 10:30 pm, extended only to complete the most pressing topics. It was ostensibly imposed to end long meetings, but it was really imposed to prevent “Other Business” topics and “Reports of the School Board” which are regular agenda items now never addressed. Since the chairman will not include agenda topics from me, especially ones that might result in some direction to our superintendent, there is no way for a dissenting board member to ask for discussion of runaway advisory committee propagation, the use of press releases to inform the board of important business, the superintendent’s use of social media, and so on. School board meetings are all for show and have no substance. And please do not think profundity is going on behind the scenes. What you see, is what there is.
Snow Day Announcements Press Release: SNWDYS2015-2016
Danville’s Board of Selectmen chairman, Shawn O’Neil, sent a very revealing letter to Superintendent Metzler and the school board on Nov. 20. It details years of missed filing deadlines set by the state’s Department of Revenue Administration (DRA) for district documents.
- The research stopped at 2013. It is not known how long DRA filing deadlines have been slipping in our district.
- Mr. O’Neil concentrated on DRA filing deadlines. One has to wonder if filing deadlines to the Department of Education are treated with similar elasticity.
I’ve personally been aware of a few late filings, not in my capacity as a school board member, but as a cohort of Arthur Green who is ever on the watch for financial information about the district. He discovered that the end-of-year financial report was weeks late.
You may recall that the SAU wanted to charge us $39.50 for copies of this and other public information (such as the staffing report) on November 3. Finally, on Nov. 19, the SAU saw fit to distribute copies of the end-of-year financials (DOE-25) and the NESDEC enrollment report to the school board (at no charge). The staffing report, which has been filed with the Department of Education, has not been given to the board – or the budget committee. Staffing costs make up the overwhelming part of our budget. What possible use could the budget committee make of knowing how many staff we have?
Mr. O’Neil’s letter is yet more evidence that the school board doesn’t have a clue what is going on at the SAU, and that the SAU requires supervision and oversight.
Nearly $49,000 was added to the SAU budget last night in anticipation of higher health insurance rates. I made numerous motions to cut the budget from travel allowances to an unfilled human resource administrative position ($80k with benefits). Every single motion failed spectacularly.
Since the 2013/14 year, the SAU budget has gone up 44%. Taxpayers, has your property value gone up 44% or your pay?
Mr. Dinsmore, member from Hampstead, said the problem is the federal government driving costs, such as Obamacare, down onto the districts and the SAU. We are helpless to do anything about it at the SAU level, he believes. I guess that is why no one supported cutting the travel expense line in the budget from a luxurious $17,000 to $10,000 which is what was spent in 14/15. Or cutting the 3% “merit pool” for SAU employees.
The SAU is a service organization to the Timberlane and Hampstead School Districts. It is also a monopoly. Districts cannot seek services elsewhere without a district vote and years of transition. I neglected to ask at last night’s public hearing how much of a raise for the superintendent (to 2022) was built into the budget. The superintendent’s most recent raise was 6.75% with a 4% bonus. The SAU does not publish the salaries of the SAU staff – even for the benefit of the SAU board – despite the fact that this is public information. The SAU board likes it this way because the less information they have, the more effectively they can administer the budget. Information gums up the rubber stamp.
Tomorrow night, Nov. 18, SAU55 is holding a public hearing on their 2016/17 budget.
The budget is up 30% over two years. Here are other things people generally don’t know about the SAU’s budget.
- Only the SAU board can change the SAU budget.
- Voters have no say over the SAU budget. They can neither approve nor reject the budget, and they have no power to change so much as a single line of it.
- The SAU budget is inserted as a single line item into the budgets of Timberlane and Hampstead School Districts. This is the ONLY line in both school district budgets that cannot be changed by citizens at Deliberative.
- In March 2013 district citizens voted to separated the SAU budget from the school districts budgets on the strength of a successful citizen’s petitioned warrant article (promulgated by Jorge Mesa-Tejada in Hampstead, and your humble correspondent in Timberlane). This meant that voters could reject the SAU budget and put it into default. That is exactly what happened in March of 2014. Ironically, the March 2014 election also saw another citizen’s petition reverse the previous petition, putting the SAU budget for 15/16 once again into the school districts’ budgets. This stripped voters of any subsequent say about the SAU’s relentless salary and expense increases. Sandown citizens voted in the majority in 2014 to keep the SAU budget separate, but they were outvoted by the other towns in the district.
- Not a single cut was made to the SAU’s proposed budget by the SAU board. The merit pool increase for employees was not even mentioned or disclosed.
- Voters’ only dim hope is to pressure the SAU board into reducing the budget at the SAU’s public hearing tomorrow night.
*I previously reported that Timberlane’s portion of the SAU budget can be rejected only if the entire budget for Timberlane goes to default. That is not correct. Even if Timberlane’s budget goes into default, the SAU still gets every cent it asked for. Rotten state of affairs, but there you go.
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
– Omar Khayyam (not writing about the SAU budget in 1942)
Not only did your SAU board vote to renew Dr. Metzler’s contract under total cloak of darkness, but they violated their own policy to do so last night. The policy was not waived nor was it even mentioned. (Thank you to a reader for bringing this policy to my attention*)
SAU Policy CBC
SAU ADMINISTRATOR CONTRACT
New contracts, renewals or extensions for SAU administrators will be considered at the spring meeting of the SAU each year. A majority vote by the SAU Board will authorize the Chairperson to sign the contract on behalf of the SAU with the SAU administration.
This irregularity has the result of stripping any newly elected members to both the Hampstead and Timberlane School Boards of any say in the continuation of the superintendent’s term. This disenfranchised the public.
Now look at all the irregularities associated with your boards’ actions concerning the Metzlers.
- TRSB went into an illegal non-public to discuss a contract for hiring Mrs. Metzler back in March of 2014.
- Mrs. Metzler was hired as a consultant to the district in a newly created role. The board was told she was the only person in the state with the necessary qualifications. We subsequently found out this is not correct.
- Mrs. Metzler’s contract was renewed without a vote of the board and about six months before it was due to expire.
- Mrs. Metzler’s contract was renewed, extended to five years and signed without the knowledge of the board as a whole.
- Mrs. Metzler’s five-year contract does not contain a non-appropriation clause therefore by law it should have gone before the voters.
- Dr. Metzler’s contract is voted to be renewed outside of the prescribed time as set by policy, which is the spring after elections, and without notice to the public.
It is important to note that all these actions were taken by your elected officials. Neither Dr. Metzler nor his wife are responsible for the behavior of your school boards (who make up the SAU board).
About the Contract
The superintendent’s contract itself has very unfavorable terms should the SAU board want to change superintendents. The contract must be bought out unless the superintendent is released “for cause,” and I can assure you that any “cause” would end up in court. This is why it is a very bad business move to offer long contracts and there is no need of it. Keep in mind that the superintendent by contract can leave at any time with notice so the length of the contract doesn’t protect the district from change but only subjects it to Draconian consequences should we wish a new superintendent.
Here is Dr. Metzler’s first contract: Metzler 2012-2015 (3)
The first renewal added an addendum stating the contract was renewed on the same terms until 2017.
* The reason “superintendent contract renewal” should have been put on the agenda was to allow board members to do research ahead of time. Honestly, I doubt I would have looked at policy in this case, but I would have had a chance to do so – and compare our superintendent’s contract with others around the region. That I would have done. Your board consistently abuses the discretion they have been granted to discuss things in secret and it only ever works to your disadvantage.
Danville’s selectman chairman, Shawn O’Neil, complained during the most recent school board meeting (Oct. 1) that the district had not yet filed the financials with the Department of Education necessary for setting each town’s tax rate (DOE-25). This was due on September 1, 2015. As of Monday (Oct 5), according to a source at the DOE, it still had not been filed. This is a serious deadline as tax bills have to be sent to residents soon to allow as much time as possible before the expense of Christmas.
Not only that, but the report also contains the cost per pupil, a figure which has come under intense scrutiny since Arthur Green started analyzing TImberlane’s cost per pupil and educational outcomes compared to similar NH school districts.
The district has also not published its official enrollment numbers as of October 1, which is normally posted to the district website around now.
We are also anticipating the staffing report required by the DOE in mid-October. It was discrepancies in the reported staffing that caused me to request the budget detail for staffing at Timberlane and which is now the subject of my appeal to the state’s Supreme Court.
Why is an important state deadline not being respected at Timberlane? Don’t ask your school board. They are oblivious to it all because making sure critical reports are submitted to the DOE and the towns promptly would be “micromanaging the SAU,” and no one wants that – especially you when you get your tax bill a few weeks before Christmas.
How Right to Know Requests Grow
On October 5, Arthur Green wrote to the district asking after the DOE-25 and the enrollment figures. It has generated more “frivolous” Right to Know requests.
I have not seen the DOE-25 report for Timberlane’s 2014/15 year posted on the district web site. Last year this report was posted immediately (at the end of August), and I would hope that the intention is to post it in the normal course of business. If this is not the case, please consider this a request under RSA 91-A for the report.
I will happily rescind this request if the report is posted publicly, which is the preferred result.
Thanks for your attention to this matter.
The reply from the SAU:
Please allow this email to serve as confirmation of receipt of your right-to-know request. Your request has been forwarded to the business department. A response will be forthcoming as to when we will have these items ready for pick up.
I have not seen the Oct.1 2015 enrollment report for Timberlane posted on the district web site. Last year this report was posted immediately, and I would hope that the intention is to post it in the normal course of business. If this is not the case, please consider this a request under RSA 91-A for the report.
I will happily rescind this request if the report is posted publicly, which is the preferred result.
Thanks for your attention to this matter.
Reply from the SAU
Please allow this email to serve as confirmation of receipt of your right-to-know request. Your request has been forwarded to the appropriate department. A response will be forthcoming as to when we will have these items ready for pick up.
By way of background, let me establish that I have served on the board of a small non-profit, served four years on the Sandown Planning Board and a number of years as an alternate on the Sandown ZBA, two years on the school budget committee along with my 1+ service on the school board. Only at Timberlane have I felt railroaded into a vote and this has happened repeatedly.
The consolidation vote was a prime example. The study was officially released to the school board 29 hours before we voted on it. During the all too brief discussion of the issue at the May 21 school board meeting, I asked for the vote to be delayed so all the board members could think about the recommendations and discuss it with constituents. Not one member supported this. Ms. Steenson said none of her constituents ever contact her. Mrs. Sherman said the teachers needed an end to the uncertainty. From the paucity of questions about the report, it isn’t clear just how many board members had actually had time to read the report in full.
Despite being fundamentally against the consolidation, all my practical objections were addressed at the meeting. Yes, there are two nagging and outstanding problems with Sandown North — the sprinklers and the traffic — but these issues would be the same with or without consolidation and as far as I could tell would not be made worse. The number of students after the consolidation would be almost exactly the same as presently. As for needing a larger playground for the older children, Rob Collins seemed confident the board would approve funding for that out of this year’s budget. (Let’s ignore that disturbing issue of paying for capital improvements with operational funding surplus because this situation hardly seems a precedent — or the fact that the voters rejected funding that in the forthcoming budget year.)
Ignored completely was the cost of running the independent pre-k’s in each school. We were in such a rush to make a decision – any decision at all – that niggling things like money just never entered the picture. It was a precipitous vote and I regret not insisting that we needed more time instead of being railroaded into that vote by a sense of urgency that was deliberately orchestrated.
I was slightly more successful in resisting the railroaded votes of approval for the two new hires, only because I have a firm policy of not approving any hires because we are simply not given enough information to make an informed decision. (I abstain.)
In a room packed with administrators and spectators, including the press, Dr. Metzler introduced without warning or in agenda order, two prospective new hires – a new assistant principal and a new Director of Data and Accountability, both of whom were present in the room. Dr. Metzler reads one resume. He asks for a vote of the board. Up go the hands. Done. Candidate shakes hands with all board members. Repeat. Done. Candidate shakes hands with all board members.
Naturally, only Mrs. Green asks any questions. In the mad rush; however, I missed the fact, disclosed only on paper not given to the board before that meeting, that the Data Accountability position is $100,000. This was a position that we were previously told required strong math skills and would be difficult to fill. I’m sure Ms. Michaud is a lovely and competent person, but the resume the board was given does not indicate any strength or training in mathematics. Also not disclosed either in writing or in Dr. Metzler’s introduction, was the fact that Ms. Michaud is currently the principal of Manchester’s Hallsville Elementary School. This is the school that hosted an extremely controversial “lesson” on bullying which created such an uproar that parents started a petition in April to have Ms. Michaud reprimanded. See the story here: Hallsville Bullying Lesson
There are always two sides to a story and Ms. Michaud’s position at Timberlane is very different from her position at Hallsville. It is a regrettable beginning for Ms. Michaud to find herself the subject of a blog, but that is the fault of the administration. Whether or not this controversy in Manchester has any bearing on her position at Timberlane, it should certainly have been disclosed to the board. I bring it up to illustrate how the school board is herded into votes by selective disclosure of information and deliberately rushed situations.
An Undertaking Learned the Hard Way
Whenever I feel forced into a vote, I will vote no.
New hires presented in front of an audience of their peers looking to get approved? No.
New hires with a skeleton resume given to us and no knowledge of other candidates? No.
Artificially or deliberately orchestrated urgent situations? No.